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Snohomish County PUD official sees efficiency as key tool for meeting load growth

Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1 in Washington state sees energy efficiency as a key tool in helping the PUD to meet load growth on the power system, said Jim West, assistant general manager for customer and energy services at Snohomish County PUD, in a recent interview.

"I think Snohomish PUD is one of the utilities that gives equal credibility to demand side resources and supply side resources," West said in an interview that took place in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23. The PUD official was in the nation’s capital to participate as a panelist at the Alliance to Save Energy’s Energy 2030 Summit.

While some utilities "might view energy efficiency offerings as more of a customer service, we very much make the investment as a strategic approach for meeting load growth on the system. So we’re working hand in hand with our" power supply planning staff "to understand what the potential for energy efficiency is remaining in the service area and how to best capture that in a way that aligns with the generation and supply side resource mix that we see in the future."

West described his role at Snohomish in terms of energy efficiency activities. "We focus very much on working with customers across all sectors – residential, commercial, large manufacturing – to improve energy efficiency at their facilities. We use that as our primary strategy for meeting load growth on the power system and after that we look to a diverse mix of renewable generation resources."

The PUD’s 2013 integrated resource plan notes that Snohomish has been actively engaged in energy efficiency and demand-side management for more than 30 years. Since 1980, conservation and energy efficiency programs have resulted in the cumulative acquisition of more than 100 average MW of conservation resources, or enough to power more than 70,000 homes, the IRP said.

West was asked if there were any specific energy efficiency initiatives either underway or set to launch in the near future at Snohomish County PUD that he wanted to highlight.

"The challenge that we face in the future is particularly in commercial buildings and more and more in the residential sector in the Northwest," West said. Lighting and energy efficiency improvements "have been the kind of bread and butter of our programs."

But the Snohomish County PUD official said that as codes and standards "are making efficient lighting products the only choice for consumers, it means that energy efficiency opportunities are coming now from more complicated systems." West said that the "big opportunity and the big challenge is how to move from those quick and easy savings into things that are a little more expensive, a little more complicated."

Meanwhile, the PUD’s 2013 IRP notes that the PUD is engaged in regional and national conservation activities to "identify new technologies, develop new delivery strategies and affect policy related to energy efficiency and conservation." The IRP said that the PUD actively participates and provides financial support for market transformation efforts through the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, Consortium for Energy Efficiency and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

EPRI "has been very active in promoting development and commercialization of energy efficiency technologies. We’ve been recognized with technology transfer awards from EPRI," he noted, mentioning two specific technologies – ductless heat pumps for heating and air conditioning and heat pump water heaters for residential water heating applications. The ductless heat pump award was for 2009 and the heat pump water heater award was for 2011.

When asked to describe the biggest challenges that the PUD has faced in terms of implementing energy efficiency plans in the region, West said that the biggest challenge for Snohomish in energy efficiency implementation is that "it’s just not as certain. No matter how attractive the proposition might be, you still have to rely on a customer being willing to open up" their home or their business "to you to come in and work with them on energy efficiency."

West said that "as smart a decision as that may seem, people have other priorities, so it’s just sometimes a challenge to get people to open up enough and be open to our offer and even get on their radar screen in terms of all the competing priorities they’ve got in life and in business."

West joined the PUD in February 2009 and is responsible for customer service, energy-efficiency efforts and business services. Prior to joining the PUD, he was director of product management at CURRENT Group, LLC, a smart grid solutions provider based in Washington, D.C. He also spent 29 years at the Tennessee Valley Authority, where he served in a variety of roles relating to multiple aspects of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Snohomish County PUD serves more than 327,000 electric customers and 19,000 water customers. The PUD’s service territory covers over 2,200 square miles.—PAUL CIAMPOLI - Reprinted from Public Power Weekly